Paramount Pictures: Do not Produce «Neurotribes», which is a book about Autism by Steve Silberman, as a Movie

The following post was written by a regular contributor Yuval Levental.

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Steve Silberman is an autism writer that trivializes the disabilities that autistics face.  When he was criticized for not including descriptions of low functioning autistics that wear diapers and bang their heads in his book Neurotribes, he said in an interview that these behaviors aren’t damaging, that «Disability is Part of the Human Experience» (  Additionally, the writing style of the book is hopelessly disorganized and chaotic.

Now, Paramount has acquired movie rights to Steve Silberman’s book “Neurotribes” and is setting up the movie adaptation ( There is no reason that this book should be made into a movie, as the content is very misleading and the author is only concerned about his own image, as opposed to the real lives of most autistic people, their families, and examining the genuine history of autism.

Silberman is judgmental towards his critics, and cannot keep his story straight.  On one hand, he called one blogger «lazy and dishonest» for wanting more representation of low-functioning autistics in his book, saying she simply flipped through the index to make her claim (  He only profiles in detail one low-functioning child, saying that the parents should only accept his autism, but without discussing any possibility of a future cure.  Most of this interview focused on how he wanted to falsely glorify autism.

On the other hand, he claimed in a comment ( that his book portrays «autism as a profound and pervasive disability that deserves more scientific research, better treatment options (particularly for associated conditions like epilepsy), and social accommodations comparable to other disabilities such as being blind or deaf.»  This is in contrast to the post above – not to mention that he didn’t correctly identify the review’s correct author (!  He then claimed that he made his position very clear, and that anyone that didn’t agree didn’t read the book.

Additionally, the book Neurotribes claims that many famous figures in history were autistic, but does not give much evidence to support those claims (  The evidence that he provides is very vague, practically claiming that being introverted and highly mathematically gifted makes one autistic.  Diagnosing famous people requires careful, clinical observation, but Silberman seems to ramble about those people for many pages.  Silberman also gives a distorted portrayal of Leo Kanner as unsympathetic towards autistics, using cherry-picked evidence.  Dr. James Harris at Johns Hopkins, who worked with Dr. Kanner, refuted Silverman’s mischaracterizations of him in a detailed review in the AACAP journal and listed the citations (


19 Respuestas a “Paramount Pictures: Do not Produce «Neurotribes», which is a book about Autism by Steve Silberman, as a Movie

    • I shall assume that you identify yourself with Neurodiversity. If that is the case, I would like to ask you something. Have you ever been asked “what is the difference between yourself and someone neurotypical”? Just curious.

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    • To Neurodivergent Rebel,
      Maybe you should read the blog a bit, one of the faulty pillars holding up neurodiversity is the idea that nothing negative could be behind autism.
      There is evidence of poor health overall and neurological conditions. And if autism were entirely genetic, why does it still exist? Many severely autistic people cannot have children. Why can there be two identical twins where one is not autistic? It’s not just DNA.

      Also do you wonder why people with schizophrenia or bipolar, two other conditions, do not seem to flock to neurodiversity? They share overlaps with some of the symptoms of autism (mainly the negative symptoms, occassionally a positive symptom too). And the health and enviromental insults to development found for those conditions are also found to play a role in autism too, yet the communities of the other disorders do not deny it and neither does the mainstream yet there is ample denial when it comes to autism?

      Why don’t they view their disorder in such a positive light? Could it be that neurodiversity or seeing autism as a gift is an invented social construct, not something innate in an autistic person? There isn’t much neurodiversity in China when I visited. It’s a learned belief.

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      • I was born this way, and talking to others on the spectrum we almost all have a lot of very similar talents, abilities, and YES disabilities too.

        When you look at my family (5 generations back) you can see hints of and traits of autism (previously Aspergers). Most recent generations seem to have more traits.

        Opponents of neurodiversity argue that neurodiversity conveniently ignores people on the spectrum who need extra help and cannot live on their own or are more severely handicapped by their neurological differences.

        Autism is the way a person thinks – but IBS, migraines, sensory overload, insomnia, and even brain damage ARE NOT AUTISM.

        Technically they are comorbid conditions that commonly occur in autistic people. Again – related to Autism but NOT Autism. Not opposed to medicines to help any of these issues.

        Everyone has a genetic predisposition to some sicknesses, autistic people just have a common list of accompanying illnesses.

        The definition of neurodiversity is stretched when we include people under the umbrella who were not «born this way». This is inaccurate and a problem.

        People with traumatic brain injuries often develop symptoms of Autism and other comorbid conditions such as sensory overload. The similarities are undeniable, the effects look very similar to autism and other natural neurological differences (although they tend to be more severe).

        You mentioned twins where one is not Autistic. I suggest you do a bit o research on the topic of environmental epigenetics – truly fascinating.

        We are only just now beginning to understand how exposures to stimulus in the environment (chemicals, foods, and even stress) can impact our genetics before and after leaving the womb.

        Epigenetics, where environmental factors turn gene expression off and on, DOES seem to be a big part in all the different «types» of Autism.

        So why do we view ourselves in a positive light? Because we need to. We need to accept ourselves so that we can feel good about who we are as people.

        We are not broken people, less important because of our differences. We are living, breathing humans.

        When you tell autistic children they are defective they grow up with self-esteem issues, feeling broken and not good enough.

        It is essential that we build these kids up (and the adults) so that they can be the best people they can be.

        If someone tells you that you’re «broken, stupid, or not good enough» your whole life you will begin to believe it.

        THIS is why neurodiversity is so important – for the self worth of those involved.

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    • Hints in your family are not the same as having a diagnosed disorder. Also autism is a syndrome, a collection of malfunctions that are common enough together to not be mere coincidence or a matter of some bell curve. Autism is an effect of something else such as a rash could be caused by a hundred things. People on the spectrum are not united by a unique determined factor as is the case for the genes for skin color, but share a similar consequence.

      Cortisol is an important steroid hormone in the body, but too much of it leads to cushings disease. «Hints of autism» is not the same as having diagnosed Autism DISORDER. When cortisol is too high, the evolutionary benefits it has is spurned and only causes physical sickness. It’s like saying because having cortisol is important, which it is, having a ton must be anything but unhealthy.

      Also you haven’t answered why people with Schizophrenia or Bipolar don’t view their disorders in the same light. Considering the overlap and connections they share with autism in many areas, they do not share the same attitude so it implies to me that an innate identity is not so innate.

      Also people with conditions such as the above are not «born that way» but develop it in their teens usually, but the role of prenatal development still exists. And there is also later onset autism too, even on the higher end, we cannot know for sure where it truly set in, it could have set in at 2-3 but not be severe enough to make a person think there was a period before onset.

      Nobody should tell autistic people they are defective. That is why the medical and scientific view sees the existence of a person that is not their illness. Plus I see also no objection from schizophrenia or bipolar sufferers about being told «they are defective», maybe nobody is telling anyone they are defective, maybe they are told they have a disorder which is not who they are.

      Self worth is important, we need to encourage overcoming and perserverance in spite of setbacks or struggles. Autism is not a way of thinking, there is ample evidence for an ongoing neuropathology even in adulthood that disrupts existing functions. It is not a linux to a windows, it is a glitch or malware in a windows.

      Also about epigenetics, what are those epigenetic factors you suggest that could possibly be anything other than harmful enviromental factors?
      A healthier pregnancy does have a lower percentage chance of a child with a disability or disorder, and that includes autism.

      Finally, the realms of science and social are two separate entities, like separation or church and state. You cannot use scienctific methods to perfectly determine social phenomena, only some guess work, this falls into determinism common to extremely destructive modernistic ideologies like Stalinism, seeing everything as cause and effect or following a neat straight arrow, that everything is calculable.

      The other way around, using social views and sentiment on science related areas such as disease or disorder is absurd as well, science is impersonal, blind like justice, unbiased. A «social» view of a disorder (and for this one specifically, it seems there is no word from schizophrenia or bipolar communities) is like claiming the answer to 2+2 is based on what you feel, which is the other extreme of an extreme postmodernistic ideology.

      Feelings do matter for the unpredictable and subjective parts of this world. But feelings do not matter when a scientific experiment or mathematical calculation is carried out. You cannot disregard evidence just because it doesn’t fit a narrative. And claiming we need neurodiversity because there is a need to feel empowered and have better self esteem is also ironically an objective absolutist statement.
      Who says there aren’t other ways of approaching it that can accomplish the same things without disregarding some basic truths?

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  1. You know something Yuval. I am afraid you are taking this too personally. I do not think you (or anybody else) should worry too much about this movie. The general population doesn’t take Neurodiversity seriously. And the “Neurodivergents” will keep finding self-created barriers and suffering the isolation from society they probably have gained. If Paramount makes a movie it will be as fiction as Tom Cruise’s latest movie, The Mommy, which was detested by both critics and audiences alike.

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  2. To Neurodivergent Rebel,

    And what do regular, average neurotypical people say in response to your identity as “neurodivergent”?

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  3. @yuval at this point the movie has only been optioned meaning that paramount and Lorne Michaels have purchased the rights. They hired a screenwriter who i’ve chatted with on twitter. projects get optioned and not made into movies not infrequently so chance neurotribes will not make final cut, but we will see what happens.

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  4. Did Silbermann actually read the posted publication by Asperger and Kanner and compare them? Kanner spoke fondly of his patients and many made progress despite the severity. While Asperger’s patients, despite being on the less sever end of the spectrum hardly made any individual progress in comparison.

    Asperger’s paper showed extreme contempt for his patients, words such as «degenerate» and saying the bullying done to them were brought on by their own actions.

    His methods were a strict Germanic kind, very Austrian/Imperial, treating them like they were subjects whose duty is to respond to certain orders, militaristic commands such as «Mann muss das tun» (One should do this) instead of addressing them directly.

    While Kanner spoke of the importance of nurturing them and good family.

    Asperger stated it was a male only condition and one of his patients wasn’t even autistic but had brain damage from birth who he used as a sample, such mistakes Kanner did not make.

    Asperger sought to keep the patients of his who were capable of work or had some savant talent to be put to use for the Nazi machine, the rest were discarded. This was the birth of neurodiversity Silbermann claims Asperger started.

    Simon Baron Cohen also has a milder but similar attitude, focusing on male patients, seeing them as useful tools (their «systemizing») for society, but what about the individual needs of the person? Their own development and personal growth? Finding true passions and interests in life (not obsessive special interests).

    The implication the obsessiveness and fixation on interests means autistic people should be encouraged to pursue a place of work with accommodation, this being their «niche», worker ants or bees. People are not insects.

    Confucious said «A gentleman is not a (one purpose) tool» meaning a person should have the opportunity to have many experiences in life. There is more than just being as a cog in society. I don’t thing there is happiness in life in being a what Baron-Cohen calls a systemizer.

    Asperger and Baron-Cohen disregard that fact people have hiearchies of needs. People aren’t machines or human assets to be move around, we shouldn’t live in a feudal society. I am offended by this blatant Edwardian/Prussian model of life they propose(d) for the autistic person.

    I don’t want to be part of this so called neurotribe, nor should their be one, it’s a manifesto for a caste.

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  5. Hi, @NeurodivergentRebel, I agree with many of your arguments. I think neurodiversity is a strong tool for fight against social discrimination. But you must try to understand that -for more people in the spectrum of autism- there is not only a question of self-steem because they need some treatments and services.

    And this people see discrimination for themselves in the neurodiversity´s arguments than «there is not problem», «there is only a way of being» or»there is an style of life». They need much more than this, and we can´t close our ears. The neurodiversity only can exist if this idea are offered for all people, not only for a group of lucky persons with high-funtionality disorder. We have to asume the suffering of these people too. I think that the inclusion of all the grous involved (including of course other pathologys) is the unique way to have any possibility to success in the neurodiversity movement.

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  6. In my country politicians said: «persons with Down Syndrome could get a job if they wish» (when most of employeers discriminates them and a great percent of people with Down Syndrome are highly disabled). This is what neurodiversity are achieving.

    Even «jobs for (high) autistic persons» are a question of luck, not of will. It’s pure delusion.

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  7. Dear @Neurodiversityvs.reality, the neurodiversity movement try to fight against prejudices an discrimination. Is a theorical perspective that promotes equality and social justice.

    In my opinion, for implement all these ideas in the reality, we need much more, of course. We need active social-inclusion politics promoting jobs for functional-diversity people. This politics may include for example reduced taxes for companys that employ this collectives. In summary, the administration may put a lot of mony on the table for guarantee successfull results. Good speeches don´t solve anything, you know… Please, don´t lay the blame to the messenger, neurodiversity movement only try to progress in this type of situations, this initiative is not liable for the political decisions in a particular city or region.

    But I see some politicians are similar in all countries. Here we have a popular expression for describe this: «the same pig with a different ring in the nose».

    Best regards

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  8. Dear Neurodivergent Rebel,

    I am not sure why you believe that “autism is the way a person thinks.” For instance, what happens if your overriding concern in life is centered in the self? Well, in that case you might not be open to spending time with people who won’t agree with you in everything. You might be less likely to believe there are thousands of people who had had the same experience and don’t call themselves “autistics.” You might even begin to see other people as too ordinary – or worse as objects – in your quest for upward uniqueness. Gradually you might start to see everything as revolving around you, what you believe your condition is, and desire to be different.

    I think you are missing important neurological information: Each human brain is unique. As psychologist Tom Kitwood said:

    “The key functioning part is a system of around ten thousand million … neurons, with their myriads of branches and connections, or synapses. A synapse is a point at which a “message” moves from one neuron to another, thus creating the possibility of very complex “circuits.” So far as is known, the basic elements of this system, some general features of its development and most of the “deeper” forms of circuitry (older in evolutionary terms) are genetically “given.” On the other hand, the elaboration of the whole structure and particularly the cerebral cortex is unique to each individual and not pre-given. The elaboration, then, is epigenetic, subject to processes of learning that occur after the genes have had their say. Each human face is unique; so also is each human brain.”

    While socially skilled people have an intuitive sense of social situations, Aspies or awkward people have to be deliberate to understand other people’s intentions and figure out the appropriate social response. That is neither a disability nor a neurological difference.

    To have a “localized processing style” as Uta Frith at University College London says, which describes people who tend to narrowly focus on some of the tress rather than the entire forest, is neither a disability nor a neurological difference.

    What people with Asperger need is not a diagnosis in the ASD but guidance about how to navigate the social world with their unique perspective.

    It takes a deliberate effort to solve the “mystery” of how to be socially effective.

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